Thursday, December 22, 2011
GOVERNMENT DOES NOT CARE JUST HOW MANY WILL SLEEP UNDER THE STARS ON CHRISTMAS IN KANDHAMAL, BUT HAVE WE FORGOTTEN?
Saturday, December 03, 2011
A National People’s Tribunal (NPT) on Kandhamal was held in New Delhi on 22-24 August 2010, organized by the National Solidarity Forum - a countrywide solidarity platform of concerned persons from various walks of life. The NPT aimed at assisting the victims and survivors of the Kandhamal violence 2008 to seek justice, accountability and peace and to restore the victim-survivors’ right to a dignified life. The twelve-member jury of the NPT was headed by Justice A.P. Shah (retd.). The Tribunal’s final report was released in Bhubaneswar on 2nd December 2011. The report is based on the testimonies of 45 victims, survivors and their representatives. Additionally, it incorporates and draws upon the contents of studies, field surveys, research, fact-finding reports and statements to the Tribunal that were presented by 15 experts.
The 197-paged report is divided into four parts. The first part provides the background and context of the violence in Kandhamal in 2008, and highlights the fundamental aspects of the violence. The second part focuses on the impact of the violence. In separate chapters, this part examines aspects such as freedom of religion, the gendered impact of the violence, impact on children, and the impact on socio-economic and cultural rights. The third part compiles and analyzes the responses to the violence. It encompasses role of the state and democratic institutions, processes of justice and accountability and the aspect of reparations. The fourth and concluding part of the report lays down the concluding observations and the recommendations of the jury. Annexures to the report include details of victim-survivors who deposed before the Tribunal, details of reports / statements presented to the Tribunal and details of members of the Organizing Committee for the Tribunal.
· Communal Violence in Orissa: The targeted violence against the adivasi and dalit Christian community in Orissa violates the fundamental right to life, liberty and equality guaranteed by the Indian Constitution, and affirmed by the ICCPR, ICESCR, CERD and other international covenants. The brutality of the violence also falls within the definition of ‘torture’ under international law, particularly the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. Communal forces have used religious conversions as an issue for political mobilisation and incited horrific forms of violence and discrimination against adivasi and dalit Christians.
· Violence in Kandhamal: The 2008 attacks in Kandhamal were widespread, and were executed with substantial planning and preparation. The violence meets all the elements of ‘crimes against humanity’ as defined in applicable international law. Christians who refused to abandon their faith and convert to Hinduism were brutally killed or injured. Burning and destruction of property (residential, official and religious / charitable institutions) was also a predominant form of violence. Human rights defenders have been deliberately targeted for their role in assisting victim-survivors. Moveable property, valuable documents and certificates were looted / destroyed to economically impoverish and lower the socio-economic status of the victim-survivors. Evidence of the attacks was systematically and meticulously destroyed in order to scuttle the processes of justice and accountability.
· Gendered Impact: The jury observes, with deep concern, the silence that prevails in matters of sexual assault, at various levels including documenting, reporting, investigating, charging and prosecuting cases. The threats of sexual violence against women and their daughters continue, heightening women’s sense of vulnerability. The attacks on women violate constitutional guarantees of equality and non-discrimination on the ground of sex, and other international standards, including the CEDAW. The relief measures undertaken by the government have been marked by gender blindness and did not address women’s special needs for privacy, nutrition, medical and psychological support. There is no implementation of government schemes by which widows, single women and women survivors of violence can be restored to a life with dignity.
· Impact on Children: The impoverishment of the victim-survivor community after the violence has had an adverse impact on the children jeopardizing their physical, psychological and intellectual development. Many children have witnessed horrific violence to their close family members and suffer from acute trauma with no access to services of socio – psycho support and healing. Many children have dropped out of school due to the financial inability of the families to bear the expenses, due to fear or discrimination by the school authority. Children having been forced into the labour force, in hazardous conditions, in order to supplement the family income, and have also been trafficked for the purposes of forced labour, sexual exploitation and abuse.
· Impact on Socio-economic and Cultural Rights: The violence against Christians has caused large-scale displacement, leaving the victim-survivors with a sense of rootlessness. The destruction of many churches and prayer halls, and the failure to reconstruct them has deprived the victim-survivors of their right to religious practice. The victim-survivor community is unable to freely practise its faith and is thereby reduced to a state of secondary citizenship – an anathema in a democracy like India with a constitution that guarantees fundamental rights. The violence has had an adverse impact on the livelihood and economic well-being of the affected people. Socio-economic boycott of the Christian community continues to be implemented in a variety of ways. The provisions of NREGA too do not benefit them as it is implemented in manner that discriminates against persons on grounds of religion, caste and gender.
· Role of State Administration and Public Officials: The jury members observe, with grave concern, the deliberate dereliction of constitutionally mandated duties by public officials, their connivance with communal forces, participation in and support to the violence and a deliberate scuttling of processes of justice through acts of commission and omission. The state agencies have blatantly failed to extend much-needed institutional support to victim-survivors and protect them from attacks to their persons and properties, ostracism, socio-economic boycott and subjugation by non-state actors. The state government has also failed in its responsibility to prevent the violence in Kandhamal in August 2008.
· The Justice Process: The jury observes, with deep concern, that the criminal justice system has been rendered ineffective in protecting victim-survivors and witnesses, providing justice and ensuring accountability for the crimes perpetrated. The complicity of the police and their collusion with the perpetrators during the phase of investigation and prosecution, indicate an institutional bias against the targeted Christian adivasi and dalit community. Victims and witnesses engaged in the justice process have been threatened and intimidated, as there is no guarantee of safe passage to and from the courts. Guidelines on witness protection, issued by the Supreme Court and various High Courts, are not followed by the Fast Track courts. Women and child witnesses face extreme vulnerability. The jury further observes that clear gaps exist in substantive, procedural and evidentiary law to prosecute and punish those responsible for targeted mass violence, and that international jurisprudence in this regard has potential relevance for filling the gaps in Indian criminal law.
· Reparations: Through the issuance of a notification prohibiting non-profit organizations from conducting rescue and relief work in Kandhamal, the state government abdicated its constitutionally-mandated duty to protect the lives and human rights of vulnerable populations. The dismal conditions in the government-run relief camps are clearly indicative of the indifference of the State government to the plight of victim-survivors. They are violative of the right of victim-survivors to a life with dignity and equality, as guaranteed by the Indian Constitution; and the right of all IDPs to an adequate standard of living, as recognized UN Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement, 1998. The award of meagre compensation to some victim-survivors and its denial to many, defeat the very purpose of awarding compensation - to repair the harm and loss caused to the victim-survivors. The lack of uniform criteria in damage assessment has led to an arbitrary determination of compensation amounts by State authorities whose acts are coloured by institutional bias against the Christian community. The absence of a comprehensive rehabilitation package has prevented the victim-survivors from being restored to a life of dignity. The negative role of public officials in the peace committees and the infiltration of perpetrators in such committees indicate that the state government’s peace initiatives have been a dismal failure. The jury reiterates that while confidence-building measures are of prime importance, these cannot be undertaken in the absence of or as a substitute for processes of justice and accountability, which are the tool for long-lasting peace in the region.
A. Socio-economic and Cultural Rights
Apply National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) and other livelihood schemes of the state and central government to the affected community, without any discrimination on the basis of caste, religion or gender. Act against those engaging in such discrimination.
Implement widow pension schemes; provide government jobs to individuals from families of deceased victims, on compassionate grounds; reinstate/reappoint victim-survivors engaged in government jobs prior to the violence and transfer them to areas that they perceive to be safe and secure; provide soft loans for commencement of small businesses.
Ensure that relief camps meet the minimum international standards of health, hygiene and privacy for IDPs; they should have facilities to meet the educational and nutritional needs of children, lactating mothers and pregnant women; provide medical and psychological, particularly trauma counselling to the victims/ survivors, with a special attention to the needs of women survivors of sexual and gender-based violence.
Incorporate a separate section in the State policy on relief and rehabilitation that conforms to Article 3 of the Child Rights Convention, as the guiding principle for all relief and rehabilitation work.
Recommend that the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights and the National Commission on Scheduled Castes and the National Commission on Scheduled Tribes assess the needs of children, dalits and adivasis respectively from the affected Christian community in Kandhamal, and make recommendations to appropriate agencies at the state and central levels for ensuring their rehabilitation at the earliest.
Address educational needs of the children who have suffered displacement as a result of the violence.
Address the long-standing problem of landlessness and land alienation of the dalits and adivasis in a comprehensive manner through land reform and redistribution.
B. Legal and Judicial Processes
Identify unreported cases of sexual and gender-based violence and include the offence of sexual assault in First Information Reports (FIRs), in cases where it has been ignored and ensure that they are effectively investigated and prosecuted.
Enquire into the acts of all public officials named in this Report, and pursue stringent disciplinary, administrative and other legal action against them for grave dereliction of duty, and for collusion and complicity in the crimes committed by the perpetrators.
Strictly enforce Sections 153 A and B of the Indian Penal Code (promoting enmity between different groups and doing acts prejudicial to maintenance of harmony) in order to proactively prevent programmes that are divisive, propagate hate and incite violence against religious minorities.
Constitute a Special Investigation Team (SIT) to re-examine the already registered FIRs for accuracy, examine registrations of fresh FIRs, the trials that resulted in acquittals due to intimidation and/or lack of evidence and recommend the trials that need be transferred or fresh trials be conducted outside Kandhamal.
Appoint Special Public Prosecutors who discharge their duties with professional competence and integrity. At the appellate stage in the Orissa High Court a special panel of lawyers to represent the victims of Kandhamal violence should be constituted.
Recommend that State Legal Services Authorities set up a legal cell to assist victims in their legal cases and interactions with the police and courts.
Provide protection to victims and witnesses before, during and after the trial process according to the guidelines provided in the judgments of the Delhi and Punjab and Haryana High Courts. Take pro-active measures to prevent threat of sexual and gender-based violence to women survivors and their daughters and pay attention to the needs of the child witnesses involved in various proceedings related to the Kandhamal violence. The State Legal Services Authority lawyers to also ensure, that witnesses depose freely and without fear in the fast Track Courts and to bring any incident of intimidation to the notice of the concerned authorities including the Court. State Legal Service Authority to assist the victim- witnesses to initiate appropriate legal action in this regard.
Accord special protection to human rights defenders and adequately compensated the damage to their residential and organizational properties so that there are no impediments to their work in assisting victim-survivors with processes of justice and reparations.
Adopt, at the very minimum, the 1984 anti Sikh and 2002 anti Muslim Gujarat compensation package to enhance the compensation already announced. In addition, victims of sexual and gender-based violence should be included as a ground eligible for compensation and employment.
Recognize the right of the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) to return home and create enabling conditions to facilitate such safe return in accordance with the UN Basic Principles and Guidelines on Development-based Evictions and Displacement, 2007 and UN Guiding Principles on Internally Displaced Persons.
Facilitate the return and reintegration of the affected families back in their villages of habitual residence, or resettle them in safe and secure alternative places of residence that is near to agro-based or other livelihood possibilities.
Formulate and implement policies to provide victim-survivors full reparations, which include compensation, restitution, rehabilitation, guarantees that the crimes committed will not be repeated, and forms of satisfaction such as restoration of their dignity and a public acknowledgement of the harm that they have suffered; meeting national and international human rights standards.
Include movable properties into the scheme of compensation, and adequately compensate loss of valuables, cash, agricultural produce and cattle, essential documents, household articles and vehicles towards restoring the victim-survivors and their families to the standard of living that they enjoyed prior to the violence.
Focus on revival of dignified livelihood options for the affected families, and facilitate a resumption of the livelihood they had pursued prior to the violence. Make a concerted effort at recovery and return of lands that the victim-survivor families had abandoned at the time of the violence, in order that they may pursue agro-based forms of livelihood.
Include members of the affected community, particularly women, in all confidence-building and peace-building initiatives by the state and district administration. Substantive participation of women in village level peace committees should be facilitated, rather than a token representation.
D. Minority Rights
Protect the right to religious freedom and clarify that this freedom means and includes the right to remain animist, areligious and/or atheist, and make any form of forced conversion or reconversion illegal.
Formulate a policy / programme to urgently address the issue of institutional bias against the minority Christian community in Kandhamal and other parts of Orissa, through a combination of perspective-building and stringent action that is intended at upholding the rule of law.
Review OFRA to ensure that it does not violate the right to religious freedom as guaranteed by the Indian Constitution and international law.
Review the definition of the Scheduled Castes in The Presidential Order of 1950, on the basis of the discrimination experienced by members of schedule castes even after conversion.
Implement the recommendations of the National Commission for Minorities, issued in their reports of January, April and September 2008 with immediate effect.
Saturday, November 26, 2011
Conversions, Shariah kangaroo courts, the law of the land and fragile unity of minorities
In retrospect, the church in India has displayed remarkable sobriety and a sense of responsibility in their response to the arrest in Srinagar of Reverend Chander Mani Khanna, pastor of the All Saints Church. The Muslim Ulema of the rest of India have been reluctant to condemn the arrest, precipitated by the demand of a local Mufti. The vital issues of the rights of minorities, and freedom faith are however involved, which impinge on all minorities even in states such as Gujarat, Maharashtra, Karnataka and Orissa and remain relevant in Kashmir. I suppose one can understand their reluctance in the backdrop of the complexities and sensitivities involved in anything that is concerned with the State of Jammu and Kashmir. The same is the reason perhaps for the silence of civil society in India and in the state of Jammu and Kashmir. Only journalists and activists Seema Mustafa in New Delhi and Javed Anand in Mumbai have dared spoken, pleading for caution but articulating the voice of sanity and freedom.
Before anything else, it is important to recall the political geography of Jammu and Kashmir. It is, of course, an inseparable member state of the Union of India, as patriotic voices constantly remind us. It was once ruled by a Hindu King, the late Hari Singh, not much liked by the large Muslim population of the Valley of Srinagar, which is one of the three district entities that make up the state. The other two are the areas of Jammu, with a huge Hindu population and a record number of temples, and Ladakh, an almost entirely Buddhist region with just a handful of Muslims, Hindus and Christians. The tiny Christian minority in the State lives largely in the Jammu region, mostly of Dalit origin, with about 500 in the valley and a much smaller population in Ladakh. For some time after Independence and the ascension of the state to the Union of India, J and K, as it is known popularly, had its own prime minister and sadr-e-riyasat, [head of state] Karan Singh, before they were designated chief minister and Governor respectively. Special status is accorded to the State under Article 370, many Indian institutions have no jurisdiction in the state and many laws have to be extended to the region through the state legislature.
India and Pakistan have fought four wars over the State, the last being the infamous Kargil glacier encounter which cost both countries precious human lives with tension still prevailing in the uninhabitable heights. In the habitable valley, there is another confrontation. Half a million Indian soldiers, by some counts, are in the valley tackling both the border situation and a continuing confrontation with terrorists as well as with the civilian population, The confrontation has been violent most of the time. Many innocents have been killed, entirely illegally. Women and children have been victims. A major victim of the communalised situation in the valley has been the exodus of the Hindu Pundit population to Jammu, Delhi and refugee camps elsewhere. A sad aftermath has been the rise of fundamentalism and the supremacy of a doctrinaire kind of politico-religious Islamic clergy.
The seeds of the confrontation with the Christian community lies in the powerful segment of this clergy which is carving out its space in challenge to the established state government, the other political groups, the military and the political parties. As Seema Mustafa points out, the vast majority of Kashmiris in the valley, all Muslim, are peaceful people adhering to a soft and melodious Sufi Islam, far removed from the stridency of Wahabism espoused by the extremist groups. But there do not seem to be any routes of approaches to the aggressive clergy,
Apart from the confrontation with the state forces, and the occasional violence on the small number of Pundits who remain in Srinagar and some rural areas of the valley, there has been violence against Christians in the past too. On 26 February 2011 , the school run by a Christian family was burnt. The government helped with the reconstruction. Before this the Tyndale Biscoe School Tangmarg was burnt , The Good Shepherd School of the Roman Catholic church at Pulwama was burnt. The community as a whole has suffered much, in silence. The people, who speak with us on conditions of anonymity, and the family of Rev Khanna, say the situation is very volatile and bad, stressing they do not want to add fire to the situation there at present “but try to apply some political pressure from outside the state in an silent manner so that we get what we want and the lives of people are safe also”.
This is a sentiment shared by Seema Mustafa who says “We must take into account the sensitivity of Kashmir as it is different from Madhya Pradesh and UP. That is imperative or anything you say will create more trouble than the initial trouble itself. Unlike the popular perception created here, Kashmiris are secular people and we can reach out to many there to ensure that sane voices emerge. The state government has created additional trouble with the arrest, and that needs to be countered as well. The separatists can be persuaded to give a statement for secular harmony, I am sure, as can civil society, and for the release of the pastor. But it has to be worked out properly.’
Pastor Khanna is a well known personality in Srinagar. Dr Richard Howell, general secretary of the Evangelical Fellowship of India and outgoing secretary of the National United Christian Forum, says “I have known Rev. Khanna for many years. He in fact was involved in reconciliation work in Kashmir valley. He confidently went to Srinagar from Jammu, much against the advice of all. I am sure that he has done no wrong. We need to move soon on some sort of a dialogue to stop rumours, the latest being; now it is the turn of Christians to leave the valley. There are about 400 Christians working in schools and hospitals, a few in government service.”
The events leading up to Khanna’s formal arrest at the behest of a Mullah, the Grand Mufti, have opened up serious questions that need to be addressed. Pastor Khanna had baptised some people in the church during the regular baptism ceremonies. A few of those were former Muslims who had been coming to the church for a long time. All were adults. A video was made of this event and put on YouTube on the Internet. The pastor was summoned, not by the police, but by the Mufti, He was questioned for seven hours, harangued, threatened. The government became scared, or possibly wanted to divert attention from other on-going crises in the state, not the least of which is an accusation against chief minister Omar Abdullah of involvement in the murder of a member of his own party who had become a criminal.
The police told Khanna they were protecting him, then raided his church, and finally arrested him on charges of fomenting communal strife. The church feels cornered. It took days for the local church to make statement. The NHRC, National Commission for Minorities and he National Advisory Council and others are silent though they have been informed by many. The political parties are mute. Civil society is dead in Srinagar, and silent in India. No group of activists has yet denounced the arrest or the kangaroo court. Right wing Hindutva groups agree with the mullahs. Political action is patently required and people have call upon the President of India, the prime minister, the governor of the state of J and K and the leaders of various political groups to take steps to get the priest out of the police lockup
Above all, the frail relationship between Muslims and Christians -- both minorities in India – is under great stress. Remember, Christians had made common cause with Muslims in their hour of crisis in Gujarat 2002 and elsewhere.
The media, as usual, seems barking up the wrong tree, giving tendentious stories, not questioning how religious groups over-rule or act on behalf of the police. This is how a local newspaper reported the episode: Deputy Inspector General (DIG) Central Kashmir Range, A G Mir told ‘Kashmir Images’ that Khanna has been arrested by Police Station Ram Munshi Bagh and FIR 186 of 2011 under section 153A and 295A registered against him. Police have also registered a case against six unidentified Kashmiri youngsters who were allegedly baptized by the Christian priest. Kashmir’s Grand Mufti, Mufti Bashir-ud-din last month summoned the priest to his court to explain about the alleged attempts of conversion. The Pastor, however, was out of station and had sought time to appear before the Grand Mufti, who heads Court of Islamic Jurisprudence in Kashmir. And finally when Khanna presented himself before a group of 15 Islamic scholars and representatives of various religious groups headed by the Grand Mufti, he denied his involvement first, but later on confessed his complicity. Initially he did not accept that he was doing this,” Mufti Bashiruddin said. The Pastor reportedly said he was on a “peace mission promoting communal harmony between Muslims, Sikhs, Hindus and Christians. But when confronted by some boys, he had no option but to accept,” the Grand Mufti said, adding that they had a CD containing evidence about how the Pastor was performing conversions. The Pastor has confessed to having converted 15 boys so far and promised to give their list to the Grand Mufti, reports said. “The Pastor said some NGOs and intellectuals were with him in this mission and some of them had accompanied him to South Africa to preach Christianity,” said the Grand Mufti. Terming the issue a “grave” one, he said Muslim ‘Ulema’ (scholars) from various organizations including the Jamat-e-Islami, the Jamiat-e-Ahle Hadees, the Islamic Study Circle and the Nadwatul Ulema would meet again to take a final decision.As of now I have reserved my judgment. The Ulema council was scheduled to meet on November 19, but it has been postponed,” the Grand Mufti said.”
The Church of North India and the local Christian community deny any wrong doing by the pastor. They have also reaffirmed their resolve to continue with their mission of service in the valley and the state.
The most incisive comment has come from Javed Anand, general secretary, Muslims for Secular Democracy of Mumbai. ” Addressing the media, Kashmir’s grand mufti, Mohammed Bashiruddin warned that such activities “warrant action as per Islamic law” and will not be tolerated. “There will be serious consequences of this. We will implement our part and the government should implement its," the mufti thundered. What’s Islamic law and a shariah court doing in a secular democratic polity? ... For what crime has Khanna been booked? Unlike states like Gujarat, Orissa and Madhya Pradesh, J&K does not have a law against conversions. But where there is a will there’s a way. The pastor has been charged under sections 153A and 295A of the Ranbir Penal Code, the J&K equivalent of the Indian Penal Code. Section 153A pertains to the offense of “Promoting enmity between different groups…” and doing acts prejudicial to maintenance of harmony”. Section 295A has to do with “Deliberate and malicious acts, intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs”.
“Why should conversion of a few Muslims to Christianity be deemed a malicious act intended to outrage religious feelings? Why should it be tantamount to promoting enmity between different groups? These might be questions for you and me. But Omar Abdullah and his police may well be wondering whether the FIR and the arrest are enough to douse the flames. The worse quite possibly is yet to come. A Dharma Sansad comprising of leaders of different Muslim sects in Kashmir is to meet soon to deliberate over the “grave issue” and decide on further course of action. The responses to the video-clip have apparently been venomous. "We promise to kill all Christian missionaries and burn their buildings, schools and churches!" pronounces one of them while another proclaims, "We should burn this priest to death!" Echoes of Pakistan’s obnoxious blasphemy laws?
“It is far from clear whether the priest is in fact guilty of a cash-for-conversion deal. Only a thorough and impartial investigation could establish if there’s any truth in the charge. But in the brand of Islam the grand mufti and most mainstream Muslim organizations espouse, the issue of inducement is irrelevant. The theology is simple: for conversion into Islam, there’s Divine reward aplenty for both the converter and the converted; but conversion out of Islam is gunaah-e-azeem(mahapaap), treason of the highest order, deserving of the harshest punishment.” Human rights groups and Muslim bodies from the Valley and elsewhere especially, must denounce the hounding of the pastor and the ‘Islamisers’ reminded that Article 25 of the Indian Constitution guarantees to all citizens “the right freely to profess, practice and propagate (their) religion”.
The last word, of course has not been said. Even as efforts continue to get the pastor out of prison on bail, or to get him transferred to the Jammu jail for safety reasons, National Commission for Minorities vice chairman Dr. Hmar T Sang liana was paying a visit to Srinagar to meet with various groups and the government. Efforts were also on to open a dialogue with various national and Kashmir Muslim groups for a long term peace with a broad basic agreement that the dialogue must continue in an environment of mutual understanding, and not in short term grandstanding. The government, meanwhile, is being encouraged to stick to the points in law and not to exacerbate the situation in the guise of buying peace.
Thursday, November 24, 2011
Three pastors belonging to the Grace Church of God Welfare Society along with two missionaries were falsely accused of forcible conversion and were arrested by the Kukdhur police on November 22nd in Pandariya town, Kawardha in Chhattisgarh.
Mr. T. Daniel, founder and Secretary of Grace Church of God Welfare Society said that a mob of around 25 Hindu radicals led by one Raghu Pathak along with the Block officer Uttam Singh reached the venue at about 6 pm where the worship service was about to be conducted.
The fundamentalist disrupted the service and accused the pastor Jivan Tigga (57), Leku Sahu and Madhav and missionaries Santosh and Itwari Lal of forcible conversions.
Later, the police came at the venue and arrested the pastors under section 295A of the Indian Penal Code (IPC). Presently, the pastors have been released on bail.
Eating your cake and having it too may be a tempting thought. But you can’t have it both ways. The sooner Muslims realise it, the better for the ummah... and the image of Islam.
A Christian pastor — Reverend Chander Mani Khanna, the presbyter-in-charge of All Saints’ Church in Srinagar — is being hounded both by the state and society for his “crime-cum-sin” of converting, allegedly through inducements, a number of Muslim youth from the Valley to Christianity. The priest was arrested by the Jammu and Kashmir police last Saturday. More ominously, the arrest was precipitated by a growing Muslim outcry in the Valley, apparently sparked by a poor quality video clip on YouTube showing the baptism of the new converts.
There have been protests on the streets, protests on the campus. Leading the charge is Kashmir’s sharia court. After forcing the pastor to appear before them, a group of Islamic scholars claimed he had “confessed” his crime. Addressing the media, Kashmir’s official grand mufti, Mohammed Bashiruddin warned that such activities “warrant action as per Islamic law” and will not be tolerated. “There will be serious consequences of this. We will implement our part and the government should implement its,” he thundered.
What’s Islamic law and a sharia court doing in a secular democratic polity? Your guess is as good as mine. The J&K government, it seems, knows better. Acting suo motu, the police arrested the priest within 24-hours of Bashiruddin’s warning.
For what crime has Khanna been booked? Unlike states like Gujarat, Orissa and Madhya Pradesh, J&K does not have a law against conversions. But where there is a will there’s a way. The pastor has been charged under sections 153A and 295A of the Ranbir Penal Code, the J&K equivalent of the Indian Penal Code.
Section 153A pertains to “promoting enmity between different groups... and doing acts prejudicial to maintenance of harmony.” Section 295A has to do with “deliberate and malicious acts, intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs.”
Why should conversion of a few Muslims to Christianity be deemed a malicious act intended to outrage religious feelings? Why should it be tantamount to promoting enmity between different groups? These might be questions for you and me. But Omar Abdullah and his police may well be wondering whether the FIR and the arrest are enough to douse the flames.
The worse, quite possibly, is yet to come. A Dharam Sansad comprising of leaders of different Muslim sects in Kashmir is to meet soon to deliberate over the “grave issue” and decide on a further course of action. Meanwhile, as is obvious from an appeal purportedly written by his son — posted on the website Christian Persecution Update India — that the pastor’s family and flock fear his life may be in danger. The responses to the video clip have apparently been venomous. “We promise to kill all Christian missionaries and burn their buildings, schools and churches!” pronounces one commenter, while another proclaims, “we should burn this priest to death!” Echoes of Pakistan’s obnoxious blasphemy laws?
It is far from clear whether the priest is in fact guilty of a cash-for-conversion deal. Only a thorough and impartial investigation could establish if there’s any truth in the charge. But in the brand of Islam Bashiruddin and most mainstream Muslim organisations espouse, the issue of inducement is irrelevant. The theology is simple: for conversion into Islam, there’s divine reward aplenty for both the converter and the converted; but conversion out of Islam is gunaah-e-azeem (mahapaap), treason of the highest order, deserving of the harshest punishment.
What’s at issue here is not just something confined to the Valley but a global Muslim malady. Islam is today the fastest growing religion in the world, many a Muslim will proudly tell you. He’ll also tell you with equal aplomb that the punishment for a Muslim apostate is death. The ulema call this Islam; the world calls it hypocrisy, a double standard.
Obviously, not all Muslims are ethically challenged. Take the unusual case of Sudan’s Dr Hasan al-Turabi, a man accused by many in the West of fanning Islamic extremism. Turabi, otherwise an advocate of an Islamic state and sharia law said in an interview in 1995: “If a Muslim wakes up in the morning and says he doesn’t believe any more, that’s his business. There has never been any question of inhibiting people’s freedom... The function of (Islamic) government is not total.”
Human rights groups and Muslim bodies from the Valley and elsewhere must denounce the hounding of the pastor; the Islamisers should be reminded that Article 25 of the Constitution guarantees to all citizens “the right freely to profess, practice and propagate (their) religion.” Perhaps they could also be reminded of the Quranic injunction: “La ikraha fiddin” (There is no compulsion in religion).
The writer is general secretary, Muslims for Secular Democracy
Saturday, November 19, 2011
To prevent worsening of law and order situation in the wake of blasphemous depictions of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) on social networking site Facebook and alleged conversion by Christian missionaries, government has lodged an FIR against incharge Churches in Kashmir, CM Khanna.
The Senior Superintendent Police Srinagar, Ashiq Bukhari said an FIR No 186 0f 2011 under section 153 A and 295 A have been registered against Khanna in police station Ram Munshi Bagh.
“Investigations into the reports of alleged conversion by Khanna are on and some arrests are expected soon,” Bukhari said.
Sources said Khanna will be arrested within a day or two. “Khana has been accused of luring people to convert to Christianity against money. He is also accused of using blasphemous words,” sources alleged.
Minister for Law and Parliamentary Affairs Ali Mohammad Sagar said government will not allow any person or group to create disharmony. “J&K is known for communal harmony and co-existence of religion. Any person who will try to create hatred or ill will against any religion will not be spared, but will be dealt under law,” Sagar said.
Regarding the complaint that an individual has hurt the sentiments of a community, he said, “It will be dealt under law and appropriate strict legal action will be taken against him. Government is sensitive about the media reports about conversion and has taken serious note of it. A probe has been ordered into it,” he added.
The Minister said that there was freedom to every person whatsoever his religion is. “Every one should cooperate to maintain the peace,” he appealed.
Sagar said that government was investigating and trying to ascertain whether there is any conspiracy in the issue.
Friday, November 18, 2011
CUTTACK: Appearing before Justice Basudev Panigrahi Commission of Enquiry, two top state officials on Wednesday said that 2007 communal riot in Odisha's Kandhamal district was 'pre-planned.'
The cross examination of the two, former revenue divisional commissioner (RDC) and ex-deputy inspector general (DIG) of south range Satyabrata Sahu and RP Kotche respectively, remained inconclusive for the day.
During the deposition the duo maintained the riot was pre-planned and to restrict the movement of police, the perpetrators were engaged in massive tree felling on roads.
They further said "the movement of armed police in the district was severely hampered resulting in wide-spread violence which could not be controlled on time."
Both the officers, summoned by the Commission under section 8-B of the Commission of Enquiry Act, maintained that the administration had taken adequate steps to prevent the flare-up in the district.
The two claimed that though efforts were made at the administrative level to maintain peace in the area, things suddenly went out of control.
Besides the two officials, a constable of local armed police force also deposed before the panel on the day.
The constable had to fire nine rounds in air to quell a mob which was heading towards the local police station.
The cross-examination would again resume on Thursday along with four more persons who have been asked to appear before the commission.
Monday, November 14, 2011
The arrest of evangelist William Lee in Kochi on October 14 on charges of violation of visa regulation is nothing new.
A few years ago one Bishop Cooper was badly beaten up in Kerala by goons because he was found preaching Christianity and the Kerala police immediately served him a notice of deportation. A 69-year-old Italian nun, Sr Angela Bruno, has applied thrice for a visa to visit India since 2008 with no success.
The Indian embassy in Italy neither gives reasons for it nor issues a visa. I often receive phone calls or emails from around the world complaining of priests and nuns being denied visa by the Indian embassies without assigning any reason for denial.
In contrast, it was indeed fascinating to see the two men of International Society for Krishna Consciousness (Iskcon) chanting with cymbals, as if in trance and distributing free literature at Nizamuddin (Delhi) railway station a few weeks ago.
While being pleasantly reminded of Meera Bai, I was intrigued, and to some extent disturbed, observing the freedom with which the two “missionaries” performed in a public place.
When the train finally left the platform at 10.15 pm, my fellow passenger travelling to Indore said to me: “should we not be all ashamed that while we have not read the Bhagvad Gita (he didn’t know that I had), this American has internalised the Holy Book and has come to believe in Lord Krishna?”
What caused the intrigue was not the discovery that one of the two Iskcon “missionaries” was an American and a probable convert from Christianity as there are hundreds of thousands of them who have left the Church to embrace other religions, but that no one attacked him or no police went after them. This was not the first time that I had seen a white American or a European with shaved head and a ponytail, donning a dhoti and enthusiastically proclaiming the merit of the Bhagvad Gita.
On other occasions and at different places, I have come across many such “missionaries” putting on saffron robes — in Hardwar, Rishikesh, Pushkar, Varanasi — going about their business making many Hindus proud and some, like my co-traveller, guilty.
There is not a single week that passes without me receiving a message from Evangelical Fellowship of India that in some part of India or the other, a pastor — an Indian citizen — is not attacked brutally along with the congregation and his church set ablaze.
While the case of Graham Staines or Kandhamal or the series of attacks in Karnataka might be considered extreme, it is quite common to find cases of “persecutions” of Christians in different parts of the country, particularly in the BJP ruled states. The police, being largely Hindus, often refuse to register an FIR.
As the spokesperson of the Delhi Archdiocese my question to the Government of India as well as to foreign governments are:
* Why are there two sets of rules for foreigners who are Christians and those who have renounced Christianity to embrace Hinduism or a similar religion?
* If Indian sadhus and sadhvis are granted visas to go and openly proselytise Christians in America and Europe, why is that courtesy not extended reciprocally to the citizens of those countries while visiting India?
* Why is it that one can buy volumes of the Bhagvad Gita on railway stations and not copies of the Bible, Quran or the Guru Granth Sahib?
Many of my Hindu friends are seen heading for America and Europe without any visa restrictions. Baba Ramdev recently bought a 200 acre plot of land in Scotland to promote his yoga and related activities. Leave alone buying land, a Christian undergoes a harrowing time before s/he can obtain a visa to come to India.
And if at all a visa is granted, it comes with a rider, like in the case of Mr Lee that he would not be allowed to preach anywhere. And yet there are countless instances of foreigners giving discourses on various Hindu sects or philosophies.
So are Christians to live in this so-called “vibrant democracy” as second-class citizens because the religion of majority in India is Hinduism and because the rules restricting freedom to Christian foreigners are drawn up by ministers and bureaucrats who belong to that majority religion?
The first time foreign missionaries were rejected visas was in 1952. Justice Mukherjee of the Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court, however, in his historic 1954 judgment in the case of Ratilal Panchand vs state of Bombay wrote: “Article 25 of the Constitution guarantees to every person and not merely citizens of India, the freedom of conscience and the right freely to profess, practice and propagate religion.”
Would it be the ministry of home affairs or of external affairs which would answer why Christian missionaries — be they Indians or foreigners — are discriminated against as compared to other missionaries belonging to the majority Hindu religion? Is freedom of religion only for Hindus? Will the home ministry come up with more stringent actions against those who attack Christian pastors?
The writer, a founder-member of Parliament of Religions, is currently the director of communication of the Delhi Catholic Church
Our View: You nailed it Fr. Dominic. Asked all the right questions.
Wednesday, November 09, 2011
VHP international general secretary Pravin Togadia on Monday called for a new Indian Constitution that allows for “anyone who converts Hindus to be beheaded”.
The fiery speech, seconded by right-wing leaders, came towards the conclusion of the three-day Akhil Bhartiya Dharmaprasar Karyakarta Sammelan-2011, held a few yards away from the controversial Pirana dargah on the city’s outskirts, where he stayed during the event.
Workers of the VHP from across the country had gathered here, many of them staying in the dargah premises for the three-day conference, causing a lot of anxiety for the police, Monday being Eid-ul-Azha.
Asaram Bapu’s son Narayan Sai, who also came for the concluding ceremony on Monday, said, “I would suggest that we Hindus should include Buddhists, Sikhs and Jains because their line of thinking is no different from Hindus, except for a few small habits.”
Friday, November 04, 2011
Rev. Khanna has been accused “motivating the Muslim youth for conversion from Islam to Christianity.” The Mufti has claimed that he has sufficient proof to back up the allegation including a video footage.
The video clip, also present on many social media sharing websites including youtube and facebook, shows Khanna baptizing people. According to reports with EFI News the video has since been copied on CDs in large numbers and was distributed by Muslim hardliners in the valley, calling people to strike against Christianity.
Rev. Khanna was first summoned to appear before the Mufti on October 28, 2011. The letter from the Mufti to him said, “..law and order problem at large scale shall erupt in the entire Jammu and Kashmir state”, if he did not appear before “the Supreme Court of Islamic Shariet” for clarifications. The letter ends with a veiled threat that in failing to do so Rev. Khanna will be “personally responsible for the consequences thereof.”
Since Rev. Khanna was out of station the Mufti set a date of 12th November 2011. Rev. Khanna wrote an email to the Mufti asking for a fixation of the date later than 12th November, since he was pre-occupied and hence a second letter from the Mufti set the date of the appearance at 17th November. The letter demands an appearance “failing which we shall be constrained to initiate action against you (Rev. Khanna) strictly as per Shariet Law.”
On 30th October 2011, the Police Inspector from R.M. Bagh police station came to Rev. Khanna’s residence in the Church at 11 PM and placed the family of Rev. Khanna under house arrest. The police however later denied that he was under house arrest but said that he was detained for his own safety. But Rev. Khanna or his family members still have been unable to move outside the Church premises because of threat on their life.
Meanwhile the Police arrested 7 people in connection with the conversion. These people were the same who were shown in the video as being baptized by Rev. Khanna. According to reports, these 7 were beaten up severely by the police in order to obtain a confession against Rev. Khanna that he gave them money to convert to Christianity.
They were let out after two days but are still being summoned daily by the Intelligence Bureau and the police and pressured to give a statement against Rev. Khanna.
The situation remains tense in the valley and the statements against Rev. Khanna continue on social networking sites. There is every apprehension that some hardliners may make attempt at his life.
Please pray for the safety of Rev. C M Khanna and also pray that his meeting with the Mufti may go well and the result will be peaceful.
Christian missionaries have had a commendable record in Kashmir Valley in the education and medical care fields and Rev. Khanna has been personally responsible not only for rebuilding of houses following the earthquake in the valley but also for many peace and reconciliation initiatives.
Also write to the Chief Minster of Jammu and Kashmir, Mr. Omar Abdullah for an intervention in the matter. Mr. Abdullah has been silent on the matter so far.
Wednesday, August 31, 2011
I would have liked to write that somewhere in India, some church – Catholic, Orthodox, Syrian, Episcopal, Pentecost or Evangelical Independent – held a prayer meeting on 23rd or 24th August 2011 for those martyred in the violence that began in Kandhamal, Orissa, on those dates in 2008. I was in Kandhamal during much of the week this year, as in past years, with local Nuns, pastors and catholic priests, so may have missed out on prayer services and observances elsewhere in Orissa and the country at large.
I fear though, barring Masses and prayers on Sundays and weekdays in a routine manner, and perhaps a passing reference in some homily, there was no dedicated prayer service for Kandhamal. This would be understandable in Kandhamal, where a terribly wounded peace filled with fear and apprehension is really no more than a technical absence of violence. But it is difficult o understand how a nation of a billion and quarter people, 2.3 per cent of them Christians and perhaps another similar number admirers or private followers of Jesus Christ, could have forgotten the trauma of the victims.
The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and its sister organisations, the Bharatiya Janata Party which was once a part of the ruling coalition of Orissa, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad or the Bajrang Dal, did not forget the day. It was the murder of their vice president, Lakshmananda Saraswati by Maoists in his second Ashram at Jalespata, that sparked off the violence. Bloodshed followed in forest villages along the route when his body was taken along a couple of hundred kilometres.
The Sangh Parivar as a matter of fact held the entire district to hostage as part of its commemoration of that day. The police had practically cut off Kandhamal to ensure that outsiders did not enter the district, but political leaders from Cuttack and Bhubaneswar did enter, including Ashok Sahu, the former Police officer of the Assam Cadre who was a losing candidate of the BJP from Kandhamal in the last elections to the Lok Sabha. Interestingly, one of the key speakers was Manoj Pradhan, accused in several murder cases who is out on bail because the court says he is a Member of the Orissa Legislative Assembly and should be therefore not necessarily remain confined in jail till his cases are disposed off in the fast track courts.
I was witness to RSS cadres on motorcycles keeping vigil along roads, questioning people, including journalists, and mobilising crowds for the rally on 23rd August. An early Janamashtmi festival in fact provided them a double occasion, for it on the same religious festival three years ago that Lakshmananda was killed, and many traditional people mourned him on that holy day.
The actual political outburst was on 23rd in the district headquarters at Phulbani where amidst police bundobast and policemen and Special Police Officers near major churches, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad held its memorial rally, and later submitted its memorandum to the Collector. The memorandum called for an enquiry by the Central Bureau of Investigation into the killing of Lakshmananda Saraswati and a halt to conversions to Christianity. The memorandum also demanded prohibition of cow slaughter, and action against those seeking benefits by obtaining fake caste certificates, a phrase they use to focus on Panos, or Dalit Christians in government service. Laxman Panda, general secretary of the state unit of the VHP said they were upset as the main culprits in the murder case were still at large.
Maoists who have claimed credit for the murder are in jail, as are ten or so Christians accused by the police of masterminding the murder. The last to be arrested was Azad, a Maoist leader, The High court at Cuttack has rejected bail for the Christians a couple of times even as
the same court has released Manoj Pradhan on bail despite multiple murder charges against him. The Sangh Parivar however wants to implicate senior church leaders, as well as lay persons they have been targeting for several years, and they made this clear both in the rally in Phulbani and in a petition before the Orissa High court.
The Orissa government had indeed ordered a judiciary inquiry by high court retired judge Sarat Chandra Mohapatra. The crime branch investigated the murder. But the Sangh brotherhood said they were not satisfied with the pace of investigation and demanded a CBI inquiry, in the words of Priyanath Sharma, another VHP leader and a coordinator of the campaign.
Perhaps a reminder is necessary of the magnitude of the violence that was unleashed in Kandhamal and 11 other districts of Orissa in August and September 2008, which also had repercussions in several other states, particularly Karnataka. In Kandhamal alone, over 56,000 people, both the Dalit Panos and the Tribal Kondhs – almost 99.99 per cent of them Christians by faith, were rendered homeless, spending several days each in the forests without food and water, before they could find their way to the safety of refugee camps opened at last by the state government.
By Church count, almost 6,000 houses were looted, demolished or burnt down. Close to 300 big and small Churches, including most major Catholic Parishes, were destroyed as were several other convents, clinks, schools, hostels and social service institutions include the premier organisation in the district, Jan Vikas, which had organised the women of the backward district over several years of hard work. Civil society counted perhaps a 100 dead, though officials kept the count below 50.
The number of injured was never really assessed. Neither was gender violence. There are at least three rape cases on record, but there certainly were many other women who were molested or raped. The formal court cases on rape proceed along at a snail’s pace. Almost no one has been sentenced for murder in almost two dozen cases that have so far come up before the two fast Track courts in Phulbani. The few convictions have been for “abduction” of a person whose body has not been found even now, but is presumed killed.
Convictions have not come through because almost all significant eye witnesses have been scared to death by the Sangh Parivar. The remaining have been bribed. Despite complaints to the judges, the police have not been able to put into place a reasonable or significant witness protection programme.
Reparations have also not been the best. The government has given compensation to the widows – Rs 2 lakh from the Prime Minister’s office and Rs 3 lakh from the Stat government, but not every widow has received this compensation. There have been no job offers, no free houses. There is a distinction made by governments of various states, and the Union government too, when it comes to compensating widows of communal violence of various sorts. The government showered its worst face when it came to compensating for victims of arson.
It divided the houses into partially and fully damaged, even though it realised that partially damaged houses would often have to be razed to the grown and rebuilt. It offered Rs 50,000 for the fully damaged houses and Rs 20,000 for partially damaged, and that too in several tranches. Many people had to use the money for food. There was not just sufficient money anyway to rebuild houses which cost upwards of Rs 85,000 for a small brick house with a tin roof. The church willy-nilly was forced to come up with the balance of money.
The Catholic Church and the Believers Church have built about 2,500 and 1,000 houses with other groups including the all India Christian Council also chipping in with about a hundred houses each. But over 2,000 houses may never be built unless new money is found. This of course does not include maybe several hundred houses in remote villages or on disputed ground that have been listed in the official or church records. The church has gone to the Supreme court seeking proper reparations. Many of these lapses have been listed in detail in the report of the National People’s Tribunal which held hearings around this time last year in New Delhi.
The government has also failed in its duty on issues of employment and rehabilitation. The Supreme court has expressed its concern at the slow pace of rehabilitation. This is specially visible in areas such as Nandigiri in the worst hit Tikabali block. These are people who had to escape massive violence in the Batticola village. The Church and attached buildings were obliterated. The people sought to be converted to Hinduism, or assaulted. The violence ended, but the people just could not go back home. The government finally allotted them a piece of land under a hill several kilometres away from G Udayagiri. The Believers church made some houses for them, in three neat sterile rows. But here was no land to till. Their fields had been left behind in Batticola. There were no jobs for the men, none at all for the women. Some had to travel to the nearby Udayagiri Town to find work as casual labour.
That situation remains. But peace still remains tenuous. And some of the threats come from the government, specially in Nandigiri. Thanks to the efforts of Gabriel brother Markose, a lawyer who is helping the victims,. The villages had almost completed a small building on common land to serve as a community house and a church. But these seems to have run against the whims of the local officials. The villages have been given notice to demolish the building forthwith. There is also serious trouble in the case of another church not too far away from Nandigiri, in the Raikia Block. The Baptist Christian community had been worshipping at their village church for more than 60 years. They have a graveyard on a plot adjacent to the church. During the violence of 2008, their church was badly destroyed, only a very little portion of the old church remains now. Rebuilding of the church began over an year ago. But Hindutva activists brought an earth mover and dug up the land between the church and the graveyard. The administration conveniently declared that it was disputed land. Revenue and police authorities repeatedly
told the Christian community not to proceed with reconstruction work whenever they began work. On 23 August, the Revenue inspector came to the site to issue an order to the Christians to stop work. The third
church affected is the one at Bakingia where the coercion comes from the local fundamentalist group, who seem to be protected by the authorities. Indian Currents in the past has also covered incidents of economic and business blockade of Christians, which specially injures the few Christian entrepreneurs.
It is in this backdrop that the Church, with all its mistakes over the past three years in not being able to force the State government to rebuild houses and lives, is trying to rebuild peace. Archbishop Raphael Cheenath, who led the community in the last three years returned earlier this year and has been succeeded by Archbishop John Barwa, SVD, a tribal from Rourkela. Archbishop Barwa is the first tribal Church leader of that rank in Orissa and is hoping that gives him an entry point for some serious work. In his talks with me and with Christian Media, Archbishop John Barwa has articulated his call to tackle religious intolerance, and adding that more work is needed to bring reconciliation in Kandhamal district. He maintains the Church is fully involved with the people and remains apprised of the goings on in the state.
Three years after the incident, he finds the lower-ranking officials “disturbing” Christians, but has hopes from higher-ranking officials who now seem more “cooperative”. “My message is clear: we need peace and tranquillity – no more violence, no killing. The Christian faithful have the right to be in Kandhamal. They are growing in faith," says the Archbishop, though a number of local groups in the district continued to create problems, blocking the provision of building materials and other supplies for Christian homes and churches.
The focus is now on the Supreme Court of India where petitions are expected sometimes this for a reopening of the cases of murder of Christians and for redressal of the miscarriage of justice in the fast track courts in Phulbani.
Thursday, August 25, 2011
Bhander Datia Dt. (Madhya Pradesh) -23rd Aug.2011: The RSS in M.P. has gone to the extent of using the very teachers of Govt. Schools to spread indiscipline among the students in the class rooms of schools run by the Christian missionaries in the state. Nayajeevan Mission School in Bhander Datia District of Madhya Pradesh happens to be one of the schools targeted by the RSS.
This school had been functioning without any problems during the last 12 years, and the children were being given standard education, which, perhaps, was not being appreciated by teachers associated with the Govt. schools - who also happen to be active members of the RSS. Rev S. Christopher of the Friends Missionary Prayer Band, runs the school.
The actual problem started in August 2009, when the RSS activists began making false allegations against the school saying that they did not hoist the National Flag. But it was proved wrong after a prolonged inquiry by the District Collector of Bhander Datia District.
Unsatisfied with the outcome of the inquiry, the RSS activists like Prateep Tripati, Jayaveer Sirotiya, Karish Narayan Kourav, Chakilal Razak and Mahesh Talagayya – all teachers in different Govt. schools in the district decided to brainwash students of the Mission School who regularly attended the RSS Shakha meetings in the evenings. Their aim was to create chaos in the class rooms and in the school. This continued for more than a week and the teachers were bewildered by the unruly behavior of certain students and they complained to the head of the school, Rev. Christopher. The parents of some of these students were informed, but unfortunately they did not care to respond.
On 17th of this month during the morning prayer meeting, 3 of these students started a commotion with a view to disrupt the prayers. Rev. Christopher suspended them for 15 days. The students went to the local police station and lodged a complaint against Rev. Christopher. On 18th morning, Rev. Christopher had to go to the Bhander Police Station and spent the whole day till 6:00 in the evening.He was released only after getting the necessary bail from the District Court.
On Sunday evening he called for a Parents-Teachers Meeting, which was attended by about 60 parents, including the parents of the children who were involved in the case. He gave a clear picture of the whole incident to the parents, who unanimously agreed that the boys should be given Transfer Certificates so that they could pursue their studies in schools of their choice. But, not wanting to discourage the students, he said that a letter of apology should suffice. But the 3 students stubbornly persisted with their RSS tutoring and false allegations that the school didn't encourage the slogan "Bharat Matha Ki Jai."
Such incidents seem to be happening on a regular basis in states run by the saffron brigade.
Thursday, July 28, 2011
Thursday, June 02, 2011
But civil society and minorities too have issues with components of the draft law
- - -
Victims have not forgotten these brutal tragedies in the life of Independent India, even if the State and political parties may pretend to have.
1984 Delhi: On October 31, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was assassinated by her two Sikh bodyguards in revenge for Operation Blue Star. For the next three days, as Doordarshan telecast the lying in state of her body, over 3,000 Sikhs men and boys were burnt alive while policemen, politicians and the world watched. A very few have been prosecuted for India’s biggest communal violence since the Partition riots of 1947. And twenty-five years later, the Government is still to tell the people if there was a mastermind. A small group
of Sikh activists and lawyers have kept alive the pursuit of Justice for the widows of 1984. Needless to say, the aggressors were mainly from the majority community, allegedly owing allegiance to the Congress party though quite a few of them from radical right wing groups, including the Sangh Parivar who had done their share of the work in polarising Punjab in those traumatic years of the 1970s.
2002 Gujarat: On 27 February 2002, the Sabarmati Express stopped at the Godhra station, and its Coach Number six was set afire allegedly by a group of Muslims presumably as a continuing response to the demolition of the Babri Masjid by the Sangh Parivar almost ten years
earlier on 6th December 1992. The bodies of the 59 Hindu pilgrims from Ayodhya who died in the fire were brought to Ahmedabad in a deliberate political decision. And for the next several days, the city and several other towns burned. In what the President and Prime minister
called “a blot on the cultural traditions of India”, the Union government told Parliament that 790 Muslims were killed, 223 more people reported missing and another 2,500 injured. More than 100,000 people fled their homes. Human rights groups feared the toll to be as
high as 2,000 Muslims killed. The National Human Rights Commission found evidence of premeditation in the killings by members the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram, Vishwa Hindu Parishad and Bajrang Dal with a large doze of complicity by the State
political and administrative apparatus headed by chief minister Narendra Modi. Many Police officers were named in subsequent enquiry commissions for their role in the violence which spread to 151 towns and 993 villages in fifteen of the state's 25 districts between
February 28 and March 3. And after a drop, violence restarted on March 15, continuing sporadically till mid June. Once again, not many have been prosecuted and sentenced for the violence even as Muslims have
been sentenced in the train fire. The Supreme Court and special teams are still investigating allegations of mass rape of women, including genital mutilation, and the tearing out of foetus from pregnant women’s bellies.
2008: Kandhamal district, Orissa: The violence in Orissa between 23 August and 1 October 2008 was comparatively on a much smaller scale, but was historically unique in being targeted against the micro-
minority Christian community by communal mobs out to avenge the assassination of VHP vice president Lakshmanananda Saraswati in his ashram by self confessed Maoists on 23 August. For almost a month, the
district of Kandhamal, on a plateau in the midst of the state of Orissa, was out of bounds even the government’s troops while the killer gangs roamed the countryside, killing perhaps as many as a 100 people – the government acknowledges 37 deaths – burning down 5,600 houses in 300 villages, destroying 257 big and small Churches and forcing as many as 55,000 people to flee their houses. By May 2011, several thousand are still living in make shift huts. They have been barred from their villages by the Hindutva gangs who say quite openly
that they will allow the Christians to return only if they convert to Hinduism. Orissa chief minister Naveen Pattnaik, who was in a coalition with the Bharatiya Janata party during the violence, and returned to power after severing relations with that party, told the
state legislature that the attacks were mainly led by right-wing outfits such as the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and its youth wing Bajrang Dal.
The then Union Minister of State for Home Affairs, Ajay Maken, told Parliament there were at least 3,800 communal clashes reported in India between 2004 and 2008, marking a steady rise over the years. The
highest incidence of such violence in 2008 was the one in Orissa, of course, followed by Madhya Pradesh with 131, Uttar Pradesh with 114 and Maharashtra with 109 and Karnataka in the south with 108, half of them against Christians and the rest against Muslims. As per the total number of communal incidents in each state during the last five years, Maharashtra is on the top with 681 clashes, followed by Madhya Pradesh
with 654 and Uttar Pradesh with 613.
Data shows that barring the occasional incident of retaliation, the Muslims were the overwhelming target in the violence, and yet in the arrests, while 27,901 Hindus were arrested, so were as many as 7,651
Muslims. In firing by the police, again, 93 Muslims were killed as also about 75 Hindus.
Human Rights Watch criticized the administrations for engaging in a cover-up of the state's role in the massacres.
The Union government finally brought forward a Bill to anticipate and prevent communal violence. The 2005 Bill, which was introduced in the Rajya Sabha – where it still lies – left civil society and specially the Human rights groups aghast. Human rights groups and Muslim
intelligentsia – the Church was woefully absent in the exercise –pointed out two major flaws in the Bill. It empowered the state without empowering the victims and their communities. And it left unaddressed the entire question of impunity, how to hold politicians,
police and bureaucrats responsible for their acts of commission and inaction before, during and after acts of communal violence. In passing, the Bill was also grossly inadequate in assuring reparations, compensation and rehabilitation of the victims of mass violence. For
the Christian community, the 2005 Bill offered nothing. The community is subject to individual and sporadic violence almost every day of the year in some state or the other, and its smaller churches, house-churches and independent pastors, specially those working in small
towns or villages in tribal and forest areas are particular targets. But this violence was not even acknowledged or accepted as being communally motivated.
The Bill was rejected out of hand. Though the government has not withdrawn the 2005 Bill, the National Advisory Council headed by United Progressive Alliance chairperson Mrs Sonia Gandhi set up a working group coordinated by two NAC members, journalist-activist Farah Naqvi and former bureaucrat and NGO activist Harsh Mander – with members from the various religious communities. Major activist-members
included Shabnam Hashmi of Anhad, Teesta Setalvad of Mumbai, Vrinda Grover and Usha Ramanathan, and both jurists, from Delhi, and this writer. Advocate Sister Mary Scaria and Delhi lawyer P I Jose, senior advocate Muchhala, and leaders of the Jamiat-e-Ulema-i-Hind and the Jamiat-e-Islami-e-Hind were represented. For some time, Solicitor General Subramaniam was also involved. The committee was also noted for several eminent jurists including Prof Upendra Buxi who could not
attend a single meeting for personal or health reasons.
After sittings lasting more than a year, the working group came up with a draft. This was sent to Additional Solicitor General Indira Jaisingh for re-formatting. The resultant draft, called the Prevention of Communal and Targeted Violence (Access to Justice and Reparations)
Bill, 2011 has been put on the NAC website and people’s reactions have been sought with a deadline of 10th June 2011. The draft is not the Bill which will be presented in either House of Parliament, presumably later this year in the Monsoon or winter sessions. It still has to be
whetted by the Union Home Ministry, which has its own draft ready for which it has been canvassing, and by the Union Law Ministry, the final arbiter of its readiness for Parliament. Even if it clears these two major hurdles and becomes a Bill, chances are it will be subject to a
minute examination in a select committee. One does not have to be a parliamentary expert to predict the Bill will have really very difficult passage indeed in the two houses of Parliament, even if the government seems willing to stake its political future in backing the bill.
But long before the processes take place for a sane debate, the Sangh Parivar has launched a pre-emptive offensive. The Bharatiya Janata Party, the political wing of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, has held
formal press conferences, and its spokespersons have dominated the TV channels in tailor-made debates. Sangh think tanks have called for consultations on the issue, and their most articulate champion, leader
of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha, advocate Arun Jaitely has gone to town saying, as a newspaper headlines screamed, that the “Draft Bill on communal violence [is] more draconian than TADA”. Arun
Jaitely wrote an extraordinary public note clearly indicating that not only would the BJP not support it in Parliament but that it would “fall foul of the Constitution as the Centre would have usurped the
jurisdiction of the States on law and order, a subject clearly and entirely within their domain.”
Understandably, as the leader of a party repeatedly indicted for spreading hate, Jaitely would be critical of any law that made hate propaganda as an offence and an outbreak of communal violence attracting President's rule in a state, presumably where the party was
in power. Jaitely also said the draft Bill was discriminatory as it exclusively dealt with violence targeted against a minority and did not deal with the possibility of minority violence against a majority
community. The proposed law was to “fix senior leaders,” the BJP felt.
Other aspects he faulted were the presence of four members of the minorities on the proposed 7-member national authority for communal harmony - and similar state authorities.
The Union government fielded HRD minister Kapil Sibal, more eminent a lawyer than perhaps even Jaitely, to counter the BJP. Sibal said the Centre was determined to make State governments and individuals responsible for law and order “accountable” in cases of communal
violence. “A polity which is just, fair and equitable needs to protect the weaker sections, minorities, SCs and STs,” Sibal said. The Congress, he said agreed the State governments would have to be on board if the draft Bill was ever to become law. Sibal’s party
colleague Manu Singhvi said a special law was needed because the normal provisions were tardy, there were no special courts, and the offense was not described and defined clearly.
National Commission for Minorities chairman Wajahat Habibullah, who had taken over just this year said the existing laws are sufficient because of the fact that they don't deal with prevention. “The Bill is not an Act only to handle communal violence but it is also to prevent
it and then to rehabilitate those who are victims.” Habibullah made a critical observation, noting that the important elements, repatriation and rehabilitation, have so far met with a mental block in society.
“In our country, it is something that we can be ashamed of, the anti-Sikh riots that took place, what happened in Kandhamal, what happened in 2002. We do need to address these with a sense of urgency and also with an essence of importance,” he said.
Outside of the political posturing of the BJP leadership, many in the NAC and most in civil society the draft is not a perfect one. Its formulation has not been without acrimony and controversy.
Ms Shabnam Hashmi, jurists Vrinda Grover and Usha Ramanathan and this writer issued a press statement resigning from the working group, expressing their own reservations to several aspects of the Bill, especially in areas of Centre-State relations, impunity, and trigger
mechanisms to make operative central intervention. We had reservations also about the powers and structures of the Central and State authorities sought to be created to oversee the control of violence and issues of reparation and so on and finally to ensure the
empowerment of the victims and ending impunity. There was a sense of shock that the draft as it was finally put on the internet introduced `internal disturbance' as one of the entry points, a matter which in previous consultations had been firmly rejected. “It has a constitutional history, and does things to the nature of state power that we ought never to be endorsing.” The second part of Article 355, which reads "and to ensure that the government of every state is carried on in accordance with the provisions of this Constitution", was to be the entry point for the law.
Several Muslim members have also wanted the draft law to be tweaked in several areas to meet the challenge of hate campaigns, violence, rehabilitation and reparations.
Understandably, again, the NAC is defensive about criticism of the Bill, emanating from within or from political opponents. For one, Mrs Sonia Gandhi ahs identified this issue as one of the major ones the
NAC must get the government to act upon, together with issues such as food guarantee, and a life of dignity for domestic workers.
NAC members say the Bill made provision for all minorities — not just religious, but linguistic and regional as well. Seven States — Jammu and Kashmir, Punjab, Mizoram, Manipur, Meghalaya, Nagaland, Arunachal
Pradesh and the Union Territory of Lakshadweep Island –have Hindus as a religious minority. The NAC has also made a specific recommendation that the Bill should be extended to Jammu and Kashmir, so that Kashmiri Pandits would also be covered; it also points out that
migrants from east Uttar Pradesh and Bihar in Maharashtra — most of who are Hindus — would also be covered by the Bill. I must add that several of us have issues with extending the law to Jammu and Kashmir
valley which is beset with so many other issues, including terrorism, the heavy military presence, massive human rights violations, to name the maor ones.
The focus of the Bill is those particularly vulnerable groups of citizens, who are routinely subjected to violence or threats of violence in different forms because of ‘who they are’. The existing provisions of law fail because of a similar systemic bias in the
administrative and criminal justice machinery against these most disadvantaged groups. Their vulnerability stands twice enhanced.
An important clause is the Accountability of Public Officials. This is being secured through reiterating the duties of public officials, and defining offences by public officials as the failure to perform those duties. Offences by public officials shall attract penal consequences under this Bill as often the greatest cause for communal and targeted violence is that police and bureaucrats simply do not act. The Bill recognizes the offences of both commission and omission.
Similarly, hate campaigns are sought to be checked in recognizing the creation of a ‘hostile environment against a group’ and the Bill specifically defines a series of acts that amount to creating a intimidating or hostile environment against members of groups, including economic boycott, denial of public services, and forced
migration. It defines as the duty of public servants to identify the creation of such a ‘hostile environment’ and to prevent any communal and targeted violence against such members of groups.
Perhaps the one of the most controversial issue is of Command Responsibility. The NAC feels that given the hierarchical nature of administrative systems, the reality is that too often it is those higher up in a chain of administrative or political command that are responsible for failure to perform their duties. Yet, it is only the officer on the ground whose dereliction is visible. This Bill identifies culpability for those who are ‘effectively in-charge,’ through the doctrine of command responsibility. In cases of widespread, mass violence, the command responsibility shall reasonably
be presumed to extend to the immediate superior officer who shall be held guilty of such offence. However, the chain of command responsibility may extend to any level where effective decisions to
act or not act are taken. This also extends to Non State Actors and any association.
But absolutely the most controversial is the attempt to create a:National Authority for Communal Harmony, Justice & Reparation and State Authorities for Communal Harmony, Justice & Reparation more powerful than any other institution created after the Constitution was
promulgated in 1950. NAC defends itself saying the principle behind this Bill is not to supersede the existing law enforcement machinery, nor to disempower or paralyze the existing administrative and justice
mechanisms, but rather to strengthen them and make them work by making them more accountable.
The primary monitoring and grievance redressal mechanism laid out in this Bill in the form of the National Authority and State Authorities (NA/SA) do not, in any instance, take over any existing powers of any
public official or institution. NAC says their only mandate is to ensure that public functionaries act to prevent and control communal and targeted violence, and to ensure justice and reparation when violence occurs. The National and State authorities will monitor,
inquire into complaints, receive or suo moto seek information, and issue advisories and recommendations only when there is alleged inaction or malafide action by public officials and governments.: NAC says through the NA/SA this Bill is seeking to create a mechanism that
can make the administrative and criminal justice system work as it should, free from favour or bias or malafide intent. The monitoring mechanism of the National and State Authorities will also provide the ‘paper trail’ to ensure robust accountability of public officials in a court of law. The panels are to be chosen by a Selection Committee for members consisting of the Prime Minister, Chairperson, Leader of the Opposition in the House of the People, Union Minister for Home Affairs, Leader of each recognized national political party in the
House of the People. The Selection Committee for members (including Chairperson). In the States, the Chief Minister shall be the Chairperson.
The new Offences of communal and targeted violence, including ‘organized’ communal and targeted violence and mass violence that is widespread or systematic in nature is also defined specifically as ‘organized’ communal and targeted violence.
This Bill recognizes that for rights to relief, reparation,
restitution and compensation, there are no statutory norms and provisions for any Indian citizen under present law. Thus, all affected persons (whether or not they belong to a religious or linguistic minority or are SCs or STs) have been given justiciable rights to comprehensive reparations and compensation if they suffer any harm as a result of an incident of communal and targeted violence. So far, governments have been both arbitrary and selective in awarding compensation to different groups of citizens with different standards
of generosity. Compensation must not be a matter of charity or largesse, but a justiciable right with a single uniform standard for every Indian citizen. This Bill provides that compensation shall be paid within 30 days from the date of the incident, and in accordance with a schedule, which shall be revised every 3 years. No compensation for death shall be less than Rs. 15 lakhs. No compensation for rape shall be less than 5 lakhs.
Addressing the Arun Jaitely charge of violating the sacred nature of federalism, NAC says the advisories and recommendations of the National Authority are not binding on any State Government, nor does the Bill create any new powers as they are already extant in law.
On our part, working group members have repeatedly reminder the NAC that Communal violence is not inevitable; it is not the norm in a maturing democracy, an economic and political superpower, and a caring
multi-cultural society such as India wants to be in the 21st Century.
Communal violence can be prevented if pre-emptive action by a non-partisan administration [Intelligence, magistracy and police, as also political leadership from Panchayat head to the Chief Minister of the State] is taken at any stage before it explodes as a full-blown mass
murder and arson.
Most of us are sure a democracy needs be vigilant against virulent political processes and entities, penetration of educational systems and politicisation of civil, police and military structures and must take pre-emptive measures. In Europe, Country Laws show they are aware of the menace of Neo Nazism and Anti Semitism and have taken precautions. The CV Bill must articulate this awareness.
Demonising and constructing images of the “Other”, specially of the Christian and Muslim communities, in gossip and political activity in the public domain, in general and political Media including the electronic media and Internet are now routine. Care has to be taken that it is not the victim-survivor who is punished anew by police and administrative action in imposition of curfew, search and arrest operations. Peace with Justice remains the core issue.